The Story:

Neighborhood warehouse grocery store Smart & Final is a value-oriented retailer that offers quality products in a variety of sizes. The company operates more than 300 grocery and foodservice stores under the “Smart & Final,” “Smart & Final Extra!” and “Cash & Carry Smart Foodservice” banners. The First Street brand was introduced in 2012 and is a nod to the days when every town had a grocery store on Main Street.

Today, Smart & Final’s flagship private label brand makes up 75 percent of its private label sales. The line spans more than 2,500 SKUs and represents more than 23 percent of Smart & Final’s total sales.


The Challenge:

Private label brands continue to gain in popularity and aren’t showing any signs of slowing. According to a study conducted by retail services company Daymon, “private brand sales have outpaced national brands by about eight times … and are continuing to grow.  Additionally, Kantar Retail shared intel in 2017, predicting private label sales will outperform the previous five over the next five years with the main drivers being increasing interest from millennial shoppers and consumers who seek healthier and organic products at a cheaper price. 

Smart & Final realized that in order to elevate its private label to the standards of its brand, the packaging needed to be consistent, communicate its brand values and truly speak to its core consumer. “The bones of the design were strong, but it was lacking in communicating the brand’s dedication to quality and community,” says Jacques Rossouw, creative director for Voicebox. “We knew the project wouldn’t be easy. We had to create a design that communicated the meaning behind First Street through telegraphic packaging created in almost a bilingual format that would speak to Smart & Final’s core consumer.” The design also had to work with any layout and packaging type with various color schemes. Once that was determined, messaging hierarchies for each category needed to be broken down. And, since Smart & Final offers bulk and retail options, the design had to work in those capacities as well. “We also needed to create a system that would allow Smart & Final to easily apply the design to future products and categories.”


The Solution:

Voicebox first conducted an audit of the private label branding landscape which revealed that most private label brands were focusing on the product—i.e., the quality of the product, the price-point of the product, the product versus the national equivalent, etc.—rather than the brand. Voicebox then began the design process by emphasizing the brand’s history and credibility. Rossouw immediately recognized that the brand’s inception date of 1871 was an easy indicator of the brand’s history of providing quality products and should be included. To further enhance the brand’s values, Voicebox illustrated a welcoming, panoramic street scene reminiscent of past times when people would go to the center of town (usually on the corner of First and Main Street) to buy meat at the butcher, bread at the baker and so on. This welcoming street scene was used as a masthead to anchor the First Street identity on all packaging. All product information would be second tier to this emblem and surrounding scene.

The final design is an approachable yet distinguishable diamond-shaped design that reflects Smart & Final’s commitment to quality and community through a Main Street backdrop, classic colors and fonts. Of course, this was only the first step of the process. Once this key element of the design was in place, Voicebox set to work developing a comprehensive brand book, dissecting categories and complementary products that would align under different font families, colors, violators, etc. This design intel requires knowledge and research into virtually every category within the store in order to provide best direction for communication hierarchy that quickly and effectively grabs the consumer’s attention.  

Voicebox’s close partnership with Smart & Final enabled them to create a proprietary design system that acts as a road map for consumers by connecting various categories and touchpoints on product packaging throughout the store. The design system for First Street is being applied to 2,500 of the brand’s SKUs that span all aisles and categories. The brand book enables Smart & Final to seamlessly apply the First Street design to any new product or category.

The final design resulted  in an approachable yet distinguishable design that reflects a commitment to quality and community through a Main Street backdrop.

Voicebox is an independent, award-winning design agency that tells brands’ stories through strategic and creative packaging design, branding and product conception.



Voicebox Creative